Thursday 7 May 2020

All student email

Covid-19 update Thursday 7 May - finance

Dear students

I hope you are managing to keep well as these difficult and uncertain times continue. I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on a number of things; our progress on our move to online learning, plans for the start of the next academic year and an update on University finances. I was thrilled to see that York students triumphed in the very innovative and inspiring virtual Roses last weekend - #rosesarewhite and thank you to all the students and especially our Sports Union for all of their hard work in transitioning such an iconic part of York student life to the virtual world!

Teaching and learning online

I am heartened by the news from departments that so many of our students have been working hard to make the transition to online learning successful, and I want to thank you all for your patience and understanding in helping to achieve this transition in such a short time.

Our academic departments are still working hard to extend and improve the teaching and learning resources we provide online, and our Academic Contingency Group continues to update and adjust our policies and procedures around support for assessment, exceptional circumstances and special cases.

Our student support services also continue to adapt their offer for students. The Library has recently added new digital materials, and many of you are using the new book delivery service introduced last month. We have seen a significant number of you take advantage of our new mental health and wellbeing online resources, including the Big White Wall, which is proving very popular since its introduction. We have also seen many of you apply for the Emergency Student Support Fund and other financial support initiatives that we have available.

Start of the academic year 2020/21

We have now confirmed that we will go ahead with the start of the next academic year as usual on 28 September 2020.

We do not yet know quite what the Autumn term will look like - this will depend on what social distancing and travel restrictions remain in place at that time. We hope that we will be able to start the academic year as we normally would on campus. But we are also working on a number of different scenarios including starting the academic year online only, or a combination of on-campus and online. We will be able to update you further as and when we know what Government policies we will be required to follow.

Impact on University finances

As the crisis continues, news of the economic impact of the pandemic is beginning to emerge. Many sectors of the economy have been affected, including Higher Education. Many of you will be aware of the stories in the media this week about the impact Covid-19 is having on the finances of universities, in both the short and long-term.

This week, I have written to staff to explain the financial situation at York and I wanted to share the same news with our student community. I hope to provide you with an honest picture of the challenges we face, but also to offer reassurance around the steps we are taking, and the vision we have for the University we want to be coming out of this crisis.

  • Financial challenges
  • UK universities are likely to suffer a significant and quite possibly severe loss of income, in this and in future financial years. Universities UK has calculated that the immediate financial impacts in the academic year 2019-20 will amount to around £790 million across the sector. Estimates for loss of income next year are just beginning to emerge.

There are various predictions for what the impact might be for individual universities, for example the respected website WonkHE (a UK HE policy team) has estimated both optimistic and pessimistic impacts for each university. For the University of York the ‘optimistic’ estimate is an 11% shortfall of income next year, 2020-21, with the ‘pessimistic’ estimate at 28%.

Whatever the figures turn out to be there is no doubt this crisis will hit all universities hard. There will be financial challenges for the next academic year 2020/21 and quite possibly in the following two to three years after that.

  • The impact of Covid-19 on York’s income and expenditure
  • To understand more, it is useful to know how university finances work. The University generates its income from a variety of sources, including student fees, government grants for teaching, research grants and contracts, donations, borrowing, and income we generate through commercial activities such as conferences. All of these sources of income are vulnerable to the impact of Covid-19. We cannot yet predict the severity of these impacts with certainty.
  • Student fees are a key source of funding making up around half of total income. With the crisis having such a huge impact on all income streams, and with the threat of such a huge reduction in international student recruitment, our total income could be severely affected over the next few years.

Consequently we will need to find alternative ways for the University to generate additional income, and find ways to reduce our costs. When looking at cost reduction and savings we will make decisions with three key principles in mind: we want to protect jobs wherever possible, protect the student experience, and keep student and staff wellbeing at the forefront of our thinking.

We have been working closely with other Russell Group universities in partnership with Universities UK (UUK) to lobby the Government for support for the sector. The Government has yet to decide if it will provide a package of financial assistance, and the measures it has taken to date have not yet made a big difference to our situation.

The Universities Minister Michelle Donelan announced this week that student UK/EU Home fees will remain the same for the coming academic year for all universities delivering quality teaching and learning online. We have received queries from some of you asking whether we will be reducing or refunding fees, as the outbreak of the pandemic has meant changes. Following this announcement we can now confirm that for UK/EU and international students, our fees structure will remain as published with no discounts or reductions planned for now or the immediate future.

Financial support

Summer term fee requests have been issued and reminders are set for this week. I appreciate this will be a stressful time for many students. It is for this reason we have been busy raising funds with our partners and Alumni to provide new rounds of the Emergency Student Support Fund, with the third round opening yesterday (6 May 2020). We also have other financial assistance opportunities so please get in touch. These funds cannot be used against fees, so if you are struggling financially, contact the fees office or our Student Support Hub who can discuss your circumstances.

Finally, I would like to wish all students who are taking, or about to take their exams in the coming weeks, the best of luck. It is a constant source of pride to me when I hear stories of how our students are coping during this crisis and working hard to overcome the many obstacles brought about by the pandemic. You should be immensely proud of your achievements.

Best wishes


Professor Charlie Jeffery